A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams

Play - ISBN: 315009240X

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Review of "A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams"

published 28/02/2003 | nicolemorgan
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"Williams' use of violence"

A Streetcar Named Desire : How does violence progress throughout the play and change the course of action? In what ways did Williams’ use of violence contribute to the controversy of the play?

Williams’ work is often considered as “one of the most savage indictments of culture in our time”(i) and A Streetcar Named Desire is no exception. The play challenged the taboo issues of violence, homosexuality and promiscuity whilst the 1951 film adaptation caused great controversy despite censorship carried out by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Catholic Legion of Decency. Since it is Stanley’s rape of Blanche that leads to her inevitable demise, it is important to consider the significance that Williams’ use of violence bears to the play as a whole.

This central topic of violence is initially revealed to the audience during Scene I with a subtle indication of Stanley and Stella’s physicality as he “heaves” a package of meat at her. This impersonal yet primal exchange between the two characters is a first vague image of their type of communication. Williams continues to involve violence in this slight form during the scene through Blanche’s recollections of the DuBois family estate, Belle Reve, and how it was lost. During this verbally aggressive conversation, Blanche taunts Stella for not being there, using intense and passionate language to describe how she “stayed and fought for it, bled for it, almost died for it!”

However, it is not until during Scene III when “Stanley gives a loud whack of his hand on her [Stella’s] thigh” that the audience witnesses the physical violence of Stanley and Stella’s relationship. Whilst it is debatable whether Stanley’s action is aggressive or a sign of affection, Stella sees Stanley’s public slapping of her as inappropriate and she comments that it is “not fun.” Again, it is clear to the audience that their relationship is expressed primarily through physicality. The relationship between these two characters therefore contrasts with the suppressed sexuality of more 'civilised' characters such as Blanche. “Stanley and Stella’s relationship merges the dual “primitive” elements of desire and spirituality.”(ii) They are bonded through desire and love as opposed to intellectual understanding of each other.

In Scene IV, Stella reveals how her husband’s violence often acts as a form of foreplay within their relationship:
“On our wedding night.. he snatched one of my slippers and rushed
about the place smashing the light-bulbs with it... I was - sort of – thrilled
by it.”

Stanley’s assertive and animalistic side excites Stella though she will not always tolerate his mistreatment of her as the previous scene illustrates. Here Stanley throws the radio through the window in a rage. Stella and Stanley fight and, though he hits her only once, she leaves the house, showing him that she will not stand his aggressive moods. However, as the realisation of the situation dawns on Stanley, the audience is faced with an entirely different view of his character as he screams “[with heaven-splitting violence]: STELL-LAHHHHHH!

During Scene VI, Williams introduces the subplot of Steve and Eunice’s perpetual fights. These characters parallel Stanley and Stella’s relationship and also the repeated arguments and occasional violence of their relationship. The quarrel that occurs between Steve and Eunice, similar to those that occur in the downstairs flat of Stanley and Stella, is brief and soon “she [Eunice] is sobbing luxuriously and he [Steve] is cooing love-words.” Williams suggests that violence is common within relationships in this working-class community of New Orleans. He makes links throughout the play between sex and violence and makes the suggestion that violent behaviour, such as that illustrated by Stanley and Stella, can be a form of foreplay that initiates passion and sex.

Scene VI was particularly controversial in the original theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire as it included not only violence but also the theme of homosexuality. During the scene Blanche tells Mitch of her husband’s suicide for which she feel’s responsible. In the play, Blanche openly reveals how she returned home to find her young husband, Allan Grey, in bed with another man. Initially the three characters ignored this discovery but later that evening at the Moon Lake Casino, Blanche found she was no longer able to hide her horror as she admitted to her husband “you disgust me!” Blanche then proceeds to describe in graphic detail the brutal suicide of Allan:
“He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired - so that the
back of his head had been - blown away.”

This is an especially significant act of violence within the play as it has greatly affected Blanche psychologically. She feels an enormous responsibility and guilt for her husband’s suicide and this has evidently lead to her present state of mind. The scene also contributed to the controversy of the play. All explicit references to homosexuality within the original Williams’ text were omitted from the film adaptation after censorship by the Motion Picture Association of America and The Catholic Legion of Decency.

The combined violence and sexual nature of this scene therefore serve as a prologue to Scene X. In the film adaptation this climactic rape of Blanche by Stanley was heavily censored. However, the scene remained in the film following a change in the play's conclusion. To comply with censorship rulings, the scene could only be included if the play’s ending was changed and Stanley was punished for his action. The film adaptation, therefore, differs from the original script in which Stella and Stanley are reconciled. Williams’ complied with these rules in order to maintain the rape scene within the film as he saw Blanche’s rape by Stanley as “a pivotal, integral truth in the play, without which the play loses its meaning.”(iii)

This penultimate scene depicts Stanley’s final act of violence towards Blanche. Stanley’s anger has escalated during the course of the play and he shows physically that he will no longer tolerate Blanche’s deception and illusions. Stanley taunts Blanche who quickly becomes hysterical. The hostile encounter of the scene is filled with action that is concluded with the rape as Stanley picks up the “inert figure” of Blanche and “carries her to the bed.” Stanley is unashamed by his “animal lusts” and acts on instinct, his rape of Blanche being a form of punishment as a result of her taking advantage of him by living at his expense. Although the scene is not described graphically in either the original play or the film adaptation, the audience does not question that this is a violent and cruel act on Stanley’s behalf. It is particularly significant to the play as a whole as it is this scene that ultimately leads to Blanche’s psychological demise whilst also evoking sympathy within the audience for her character. The scene also concludes Stanley’s taunting of Blanche that has occurred throughout the play as he makes a physical display of his power over her.

These examples of William’s use of violence show that it is a theme central to A Streetcar Named Desire which is present in various forms. Williams’ uses violence to trigger significant acts within the play, particularly the psychological collapse of Blanche as it is the rape that acts as her ultimate bane. The progression of violence can be clearly traced through the play as it advances and the violence becomes more intense. Despite the controversy of Williams’ use of violence, he succeeds in producing a play that examines the significance of violence for the individual and also within society.

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Comments on this review

  • flashofalchemy published 05/09/2009
    Fantastic! Broad, detailed and eloquent.
  • DamonaKing published 08/01/2006
    Your review is the best one to this theme and deserves an E. Great job, Damona
  • siso published 03/06/2003
    nice read! well done
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Product Information : A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams

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Play - ISBN: 315009240X

Product Details

Type: Play

Title: A Streetcar Named Desire

Author: Tennessee Williams

ISBN: 315009240X

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Listed on Ciao since: 15/03/2001